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The sky's the limit for Alexis

The sky's the limit for Alexis

The sky's the limit for Alexis

11 June 2018

Alexis Mapleback’s feet have hardly hit the ground after the Salvation Army officer recently took on an additional role as an Air Force chaplain. 

By Bill Simpson

She is still in her mid-20s, but already Alexis Mapleback is mixing it with some of the country’s high flyers.

A Salvation Army Lieutenant for the past 18 months, Alexis is also a Flight Lieutenant in the Australian Defence Forces, serving as a chaplain at the Air Force East Sale base in Victoria.

When on Salvation Army business, she wears a Salvation Army uniform. When on Air Force business, she wears the blue “jungle” uniform of the Air Force. Alexis studied separately to join the Air Force as an enlisted officer because she wanted to connect with the community when she and husband Simon were appointed Corps Officers at Sale at the start of 2017.

She is one of the youngest Australian Defence Forces chaplains and one of the very few females in the role. While working alongside her husband at the Sale Corps and raising two children, Lillian, 4, and Liam, 2, Alexis also spends time among the more than 1000-plus people on the Air Force base.

“I call it lurking with intent,” she says. That means she is available to listen to the Air Force personnel and assist, where appropriate. She works with four other chaplains at the base. “Lurking with intent is simply defined as hanging around people enough so that they recognise that we are there. It means sharing yourself with them so that they feel comfortable sharing themselves with us.” 

Chaplaincy, Alexis says, is her preferred serving role in life. She realised her passion for chaplaincy when she trained in prison and court chaplaincy during her study at The Salvation Army training college in Melbourne in 2015-16.

Alexis is a young woman with serious intention – intention to serve God in communities that serve the nation. She has already advised The Salvation Army that she would prefer any future appointments to link with communities where there is a Defence Forces base. She accepts that her preference may limit where she and Simon serve The Salvation Army. But that’s the way it is, she says.

god’s sense of humour

Alexis was a reluctant candidate for Salvation Army officership. Her reluctance, she says, was born from a difficult time as the child of Salvation Army officers.

She is a fifth generation Salvationist and third generation officer. “After a childhood moving every three years with officer parents, I wanted a normal life,” she says. “I certainly did not want to be a Salvation Army officer, myself.

“As a child, I had nowhere I could call home. I had no friends; no close family relationships. “I was a junior soldier – all of those Salvation Army things. I kept going to church because my parents were the officers. But I didn’t wake up on Sunday mornings thinking it was good that I was going to church. “I pretty much went through the motions, I suppose. I was in war zones and different countries with my parents. We were in Sri Lanka during a civil war. It wasn’t pleasant. We were in New Zealand and Alice Springs.

“I didn’t like it much. But I was conscious and cautious of not doing anything to upset my parents’ ministry.” As a teenager, she was rebellious, but “not naughty”. “I think it was more about trying to take control of my life,” she says.

“God was always important to me. My rebellion was more about whether The Salvation Army was important to me; whether I really wanted to be part of The Salvation Army. God wasn’t tied up in my feelings about The Salvation Army. I saw God and The Salvation Army as two different things. I concluded that I could serve God, but I wasn’t keen on serving The Salvation Army. After generations of Salvation Army members and officers, becoming an officer would have been like joining the family business.” 

After high school, Alexis studied to be a psychologist. Her intention was to work as a social worker “anywhere but in The Salvation Army”. But then she met Simon (pictured right). He was already in training to be a Salvation Army officer.

“I guess that this was a case of God having a really big sense of humour,” Alexis says. “So, I went with it.” After training college, Simon was appointed as Corps Officer at Eaglehawk, near Bendigo, in Victoria. Alexis joined him in the appointment as a Territorial Envoy. She was in that role for four years before, herself, going to training college for two years. During Alexis’ time at college, Simon was Corps Officer at Mitcham and Dandenong.

breaking new ground

After her graduation, Simon and Alexis were appointed to Sale. In the first year of her Sale Corps appointment, Alexis also studied to become a Royal Australian Air Force reservist. She achieved her goal in December 2017.

It was a year of paperwork, medicals, selection processes and capability testing. “Unlike being a ‘Sally Man’ (a Salvationist working with the Defence Forces), you can’t just walk onto an Air Force base and be a chaplain,” she says. “You have to enlist (in the Defence Forces), which is a very long process. You then also have to undergo a lot of training and your role is very much governed by strict guidelines.

“It wasn’t about The Salvation Army finding a position for me. Rather, I found the opportunity myself, applied for it and worked with both the Air Force and The Salvation Army to undertake this missional service in my community.

“When we got to Sale, we quickly realised that as a town with an RAAF base within it, it was our job to be as involved with its personnel as we could with any other major group in the community. For me, this meant I would do whatever it took to meet the needs of my community.

If joining the Air Force and getting The Salvation Army on board is what it would take, then that is what I would do. “This is not a normal position for an officer in The Salvation Army. Nor are there many female Air Force chaplains, especially not in their 20s. I set some new ground for myself, The Salvation Army and the Air Force.

“I think as Salvation Army officers we are called to meet people where they are and serve our communities whatever the cost. This is what drove me to join the Air Force and in doing so, I have found a calling beyond myself and a joy which urges me on to achieve everything and anything I can within our two working organisations.” 

Alexis had been in her Air Force role only a few months when we spoke with her. “It’s still early,” she says, “but I am already making valuable connections. Last week, I visited a different area of the base and met a person who said he hadn’t seen a chaplain there in a very long time. He was about to be deployed to a very physically and emotionally draining environment. After we talked, he thanked me and commented how timely our meeting had been.”

She thanked God for placing her there to help in a time of need. Her achievement has also inspired Alexis to teach her daughter that being a girl shouldn’t stop her from doing something she chooses, including being the only female in a team of men. It has also encouraged her to teach both children to do what they are passionate about; to make a difference in the world. 

Bill Simpson is a contributing writer for Others.


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